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1. We exist at the intersection of sectors: There are several organizations in Columbus that train progressives to run for office and several that network young professionals around civic issues. But none operate at the intersection. The networks of political leaders, elected officeholders, and policy professionals in Central Ohio barely overlap with those of up-and-coming leaders in the private sector, startup/entrepreneurship world, and nonprofit community, even where they occupy the same neighborhoods. We want to build bridges between these worlds.
2. We are obsessed with finding and investing in new faces, fresh blood, and novel thinking, from diverse and underrepresented backgrounds. Our program is free, unlike most others out there that require steep fees or employer sponsorship. We recruit those outside the power structure from underrepresented backgrounds and professions. Entry into civic affairs too often requires treading a narrow path through certain jobs or positions that are inaccessible to those without financial or social, capital, the right name, and/or longstanding interest expressed through prior volunteering that is difficult to balance with real life. The result? Our “bench” is artificially small, with self-perpetuating over-represented personas. High-potentials are told to “wait their turn.” What a shame: individuals outside politics are compelling advocates and candidates, who marshal new resources, stories, and relationships into the movement.
3. We focus on Millennials, a generation suddenly galvanized to action and activism as they witness the direction of the country shift. This is the largest, most educated, progressive, and diverse generation in history. Yet they remain sidelined, allergic to partisan labels, cynical about the system (the median age of voters in mayoral elections is 60). If they only engaged, they could transform politics. Without deliberate channels for this generation to bring their vitality to existing structures, their excitement will strike against the insularity and siloed nature of our movement and then calcify into antipathy or dissipate into apathy. We will fumble and fail to capitalize on this unique moment if we do not offer them on-ramps.
4. We are not just a candidate bootcamp. Most organizations like ours train participants for the narrow path of running for office in the short-term. But there are many ways to make change beyond this: we want to incubate future issue advocates, campaign organizers, nonprofit leaders, social entrepreneurs, etc. Even those who want to pursue elected office may wait a decade or more to build experience before making a decision.
5. We are a lean volunteer-operated local organization where your contribution and involvement offers high return-on-investment. We have a sustainable business model: every year, Fellows put their fundraising skills to work by raising enough money for next year’s operations. Moreover, as Fellows graduate, the best and the brightest will join the executive board, replenishing our leadership ranks, and immunizing us from the volunteer burnout that hobbles other groups. Our Fellows experience is amplified by belonging to a network of 43+ affiliates that network at regional and national events. This Columbus affiliate will be the base to expand other Ohio cities in the coming years.
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